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Industry Seeks Better FCC, USDA, NTIA Broadband Coordination

Industry sought improved coordination and transparency through the FCC, USDA and NTIA’s interagency agreement established under the Broadband Interagency Coordination Act of 2020. Some asked the agencies to make the shared information available publicly and to increase reliance on the FCC’s maps when coordinating broadband programs, in comments posted Tuesday in docket 22-251.

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The agencies should require "early reporting" from states receiving NTIA funding to "avoid duplication or overbuilding," said USTelecom, including the “date, location, and individual/entity to whom they then distribute federally funded awards.” The group suggested seeking the inclusion of the Treasury Department in the agreement "given the significant broadband-related funding" the department is administering.

The interagency agreement should "spell out in somewhat greater operational detail as to how information will be shared among the agencies and used by them," said NTCA. Agencies should establish a "common tracking chart listing all of the programs across these three agencies that have enforceable commitments to deliver broadband services that meet certain performance parameters," NCTA said, and a "common map" where the enforceable commitments apply: Doing so would "add an appropriate and reasonable level of detail to the interagency agreement."

Information about all projects receiving state, local and tribal funding should be included in the FCC's deployment locations map mandated under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, and made publicly available to "ensure that no funding is awarded to areas with an enforceable buildout commitment under any broadband funding program," said NCTA. Doing so would ensure a "more comprehensive map" and help close the digital divide by "preventing duplicative support and overbuilding," the group said.

Any information exchanged between agencies should be based on "well-defined and accurate data," said the Adaptive Spectrum and Signal Alignment. The interagency agreement should require that all agencies develop "common processes and definitions" to provide "meaningful, consistent, and accurate measurements that are cost-effective to perform," the group said.

With low earth orbit satellites and other emerging tech offering a route to closing the digital divide, technology neutrality needs to be a guiding principle of the interagency agreement, SpaceX said. It said all broadband deployment options should be “on a level playing field” for the agencies’ various programs, with the interagency agreement adopting tech-neutral metrics of broadband service. That tech neutrality would mean axing bias in program eligibility rules where some broadband technologies like satellite and mobile service have limited or no eligibility, it said. That neutrality also would mean using objective, uniform evaluation standards, it said.

Recent high-profile internal disagreements among agencies and departments … illustrate the harms that result when government entities work at cross purposes,” said the Free State Foundation (see 2203220072). There's a "pressing need for transparency and oversight," the group said, as well as a "comprehensive national broadband strategy." The FCC should also highlight in its report to Congress the "need for additional legislation requiring that all agencies rely exclusively upon the [broadband data collection] maps," FSF said.

The agreement should ensure all agencies "abide by these coordination procedures rigorously" and "without undue delay," said the Telecommunications Law Professionals. The group said calls by a "small but vocal group of interested parties" for the FCC to pause high-cost USF programs until programs funded through the IIJA are completed "should not be a concern as long as the interagency coordination agreement is faithfully implemented." The agencies "must cooperate to ensure that funding is not awarded that results in a wasteful duplication of services" without "putting the FCC’s high-cost programs on hold indefinitely," TLP said.